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Helmsman roundtable: Impressions of Tiger football

The Tigers are currently on their bye week, and are off to their best start to a season since 1961. The Daily Helmsman asked its two sports reporters Austin Reynolds and J.T. Mullen, and news/sports reporter Jonah Jordan their thoughts on Memphis’ season to this point.

Given what we've seen so far are the Tigers a legitimate 5-0 team or has the schedule been kind to them to this point?

AR: Both? I don't really know what "legitimate" 5-0 means. You can only play the teams on your schedule, and Memphis beat all of theirs. Memphis beat Cincinnati and Bowling Green who are both legit quality teams. Missouri State, Kansas and USF on the other hand are all horrendous. But yes, Memphis is a legitimate good team, if that's what the question is asking. If they weren't they wouldn't have beaten Cincinnati or Bowling Green.

JJ: It's a legitimate 5-0. Every team has cupcakes in their first few games. Bowling Green and Cincinnati are two legitimate teams. Bowling Green has one of the best offenses in the nation while Cincinnati is going to compete for their American Athletic Conference division. Missouri State and Kansas are not good football teams and the Tigers beat them like they should. USF is a mediocre team with a good defense that gave some very good teams problems.

JM: I think Memphis has had to earn every bit of the 5-0 and offensively they are definitely legitimate. The defense is another story, but wins over Bowling Green and Cincinnati are very solid wins. It’s hard to say just how good this team really is, but with matchups against Ole Miss, Navy, at Houston and at Temple we will learn soon enough.

What has most impressed you about Memphis so far? Least impressive (apart from the defense)?

AR: Paxton Lynch. Everybody knew Lynch was a good quarterback because of last season, but what he's done in the first five games this year has been insane. He's completing 70 percent of his passes and has thrown 10 touchdowns to no interceptions. He's legitimately been one of the best quarterbacks in all of college football. The least impressive is the defense. Yes, I know the question said the least impressive apart from the defense, but it's been such a glaring weakness I can't justify saying anything else, because nothing else has been even nearly as bad.

JJ: I've been impressed by the depth and speed the Tigers have all over the offense. They go three-deep at running back. Each one has over 150 yards rushing on the season, four touchdowns and averages four or more yards per carry. When Sam Craft struggled on kick returns they were able to bring in Jae'lon Oglesby. And now he's making plays as a receiver.

The least impressive thing about the Tigers is how undisciplined they have been. The defense has had one or more targeting penalties in every game. The team has had problems with consistent personal foul penalties. They are penalties that kill offensive drives or wake up an offense. This is a sign of a Larry Porter coached team, not a Justin Fuente coached team.

JM: Obviously I’m most impressed by the offense, particularly the passing game. Paxton Lynch looks like one of the best QBs in the country and his receivers as a unit look fantastic. It is not just one or two guys he’s targeting either. He is getting multiple guys involved and they all seemed to be up to the task.

The defensive line has impressed me the least. No matter who the opponent is the defensive line has just looked outmatched. They have got to find a way to start putting pressure on opposing QBs if they want to keep the winning streak alive.

Is the defense what it is at this point or was last week's showing at USF encouraging enough that they can still improve?

AR: The USF game was partly just USF having a dumpster fire of an offense, but Memphis' defense has to get some credit for it too. The defense made some big plays and there were positives to take away from it. That being said, nothing matters as long as the penalties continue. The Memphis defense has been repeatedly penalized for stupid penalties such as unnecessary roughness and targeting over and over and over again this season. Those penalties are mostly easy to avoid and there's really just no excuse. It's gotta stop.

JJ: The win against USF was somewhat encouraging. It was disconcerting that they came out unprepared for a running attack against a team that had thrown under 100 passes all season. But they turned it around and were able to consistently stop the USF offense. The secondary did take a nice step forward even if it was against a subpar quarterback.

They have many areas to improve in. The line struggles to get into the backfield. Part of that is because there is barely any creativity in the play calling. The days of creative Barry Odom blitzes are gone. We are now in the days of rushing only three in a 4-3 defense.

JM: The second half performance against USF was a little encouraging, but that was against a run-heavy offense. The very few times USF quarterback Quinton Flowers did drop back to pass, his receivers had the Memphis secondary beat. The Tigers were just lucky Flowers over shot his target each time. When the Tigers face a passing offense and better quarterback (cough…cough…Chad Kelly) the Tigers will have the same problems it has been facing all year.

Best player (other than Paxton Lynch)? Most disappointing?

AR: Sam Craft. Other than Lynch, there's probably not another player who makes more of an overall impact on Memphis' offense than Craft. His ability to lineup both out of the backfield and at wide receiver is incredibly valuable, and we saw him at his best on the road at Bowling Green when he had more than 50 yards both on the ground and through the air. His rushing has also been critical in the red zone, where he's been trusted in some big moments, like when he ran in two fourth quarter scores against Cincinnati a couple weeks ago.

I honestly don’t have a most disappointing player. The most disappointing part of this team has been the defense as an overall unit. There’s not really any one particular player I can think of that’s underperformed enough for me to feel comfortable calling them disappointing.

JJ: Wide receiver Anthony Miller has been very impressive in the first five games. He leads the team in receiving and was key in wins over Cincinnati and USF. Paxton Lynch has lacked a legitimate deep threat in his first two seasons in Memphis, but may have finally found one in Miller.

Linebacker Jackson Dillon has had disappointing season thus far. He has zero sacks and one tackle for loss this season. The 6-foot-6 linebacker was supposed to be the best pass rusher the Tigers have, but he has been unable to make a substantial difference. The Tigers need him to turn it around against Ole Miss.

JM: Other than Paxton Lynch, I’m most impressed by Anthony Miller. Miller might not have the best numbers on the team, but he has that ‘big-play’ capability every time he touches the ball. His size and strength are what make him such a dangerous player at receiver. He just outman’s his opponent almost every time he catches the ball.

I’m most disappointed by the defense as a whole. The secondary has troubles matching up against receivers, the D-line can’t put enough pressure on the quarterbacks, and overall they look undisciplined racking up penalty after penalty (especially targeting with seven on the year). They must improve for the Tigers to have a chance to play in and win the inaugural American Athletic Conference championship game.

Is it better for Memphis that Ole Miss lost last weekend or worse because that means Ole Miss will not be undefeated heading into their epic clash in two weeks?

AR: I'm not sure how much it actually matters, but my gut feeling is that it's worse for Memphis. Now Ole Miss knows that their playoff hopes are virtually over if they pick up another loss, so they know that they'll need to be at their best when they come to the Liberty Bowl. I also doubt that they'd overlook Memphis, since the Tigers gave them a real fight in Oxford last year.

JJ: It stinks that Ole Miss lost. Now, College Gameday is most likely not coming to Memphis for the game, Ole Miss has no chance at being number one and is mad. The Tigers wanted the Rebels flying high and undefeated. Now, every game is even more important for (Ole Miss coach) Hugh Freeze's squad. The game is still the most important Memphis Tigers game of the season, possibly ever, but it has lost some of its luster.

JM: I think it is worse that Ole Miss isn’t undefeated for a few reasons. Ole Miss being undefeated put them as one of the best teams in the nation. The national perception of a win (or loss) to an undefeated Ole Miss, ranked in the top three is leaps and bounds better than a win/loss to a top-20, one-loss Ole Miss. Also an undefeated Memphis vs. and undefeated Ole Miss is a way bigger storyline as well.

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